Sunday, August 27, 2006
Newspapers rely on a number of things to survive. Sales, over the counter and through advertising, is an obvious one. Then you have the standard of journalism which relies on quality of writing, content and exclusivity. A lot of what journalists write will have been researched and they may quote anonymous sources. Anonymous contributors, the journalist hopes, will give their writing a whiff of authenticity, will make the reader think that the person they're reading has access to information not available to others. Your average hack will fiercely protect his or her sources claiming their anonymity is essential. Anonymity also means that although their writing might imply their informer is someone fairly senior, they could just as easily be a doorman with a grudge.
So, when a newspaper chooses to out someone and expose their identity (or more often than not not, their tits on some faraway beach), they're treading a delicate path. They're about to attack an area which they would, in their own profession, consider untouchable. You have to ask if they're doing it in the public interest or whether they're doing it to increase sales or perhaps it's out of spite or to undermine a competitor. Whatever their reasons, and public interest is rarely the top priority, before you revel in the salaciousness of the moment, you should question why they're doing it.
The identity of the writer of the blog and subsequent book, girl with a one-track mind was recently revealed in a national (British) newspaper. The newspaper had serialised the book a few weeks earlier. The writer was very keen to remain anonymous, Her writing is brutally and refreshingly honest, involving fairly intimate details about her sex life. A lot of people read the blog with a sense of relief, finding they were not alone in the way they thought or behaved. Some people may have flinched at the detail, but few I suspect, doubted its honesty.
So what possible benefit tracking down and outing the writer has been lost on me. It could only be an attempt to puff up the insecurity or flagging reputation of the journalist in question. It might have got them a few extra sales but hardly the kind of investigative journalism that will win prizes. This is low-level stuff, it ain't Woodward and Bernstein. The target of the piece has initially not fared so well. She has had to question whether she can continue writing, whether commercially or just for pleasure. She has had to face her family and friends who now know her most intimate thoughts and what goes through her mind on day-to-day basis - we all have opinions and thoughts but sometimes we like to keep some of them to ourselves. Her day job and career has been effectively ruined by the innuendo laden style in which the outing article was written.
Newspapers love to tell us what an important job they're doing but sometimes one suspects they're sometimes more interested in making the news rather than just reporting it. Having a large multi-national corporation behind you means makes it easy to go after the little man, who rarely has the time or money to engage in a fight over journalistic integrity. The target of the piece will just have to pick herself up, dust herself down, hope the story dies down pretty quickly and try and get on with her life.
In the case of girl with a one-track mind, I think she's got the chutzpah to come through this. Her writing is engaging, funny and she comes across as someone you'd like to meet. Her book is selling well. She has had plenty of support through her website. She may not be able to write anonymously again, but I'm sure she has plenty to offer using her true identity. I wish her well. I'd like to see whose career has progressed further in 10 years time - the journalist or the girl - my money's on the girl.